Eugene Montague

Towards a Phenomenology of Agency in Performance

The concept of agency has been much debated recently in philosophy and cognitive science (Nahmias 2005; Pacherie 2007, 2011a, b). It is clearly an important concept in the study of music, but the notion that performers are agents is foreign to much discussion of art music, where agency has been accredited to the composer (Cone 1972) or to the music itself (Maus 1991, 2005). The recent theory of performance advanced by Godlovitch (Godlovitch 1998) has outlined a theory of performative agency. However, his idea of agency  does not engage with performer’s experience. Therefore, this presentation develops a concept of performative agency that is founded on a broad phenomenology.
I plan a talk, an experiment involving the audience, and a concluding discussion. The talk will develop an understanding of agency from a phenomenological perspective. Drawing on work by Gallagher, Merleau-Ponty, and Pacherie, I present various experiences associated with the concept of agency, in order for my audience to gain expertise in identifying these experiences.

The experiment investigates these experiences of agency. It asks audience members to  perform a simple musical phrase. The performance contexts will be varied, as some of the audience will have scores, others will perform as cued by the speaker, and others will have instructions to improvise. Afterwards, each member will complete a survey on the experience of performing in terms of the concept of agency outlined previously.
The aim of the survey is to examine the phenomenology of agency in performance through informed self-reflection. The audience has the opportunity to reflect on the experience of agency in performance. I will present the results from previous similar studies that I have conducted. The floor will then be open for the audience to relate their experiences, and to discuss the concepts and methodology of the research.